On whatever Brits say the top issues facing the UK are, they think the government is doing a bad job

Beth MannSenior Research Executive
Chiara RicchiPolitical Analytics Executive
Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
June 04, 2024, 3:17 PM GMT+0

Many 2019 Conservatives no longer say the party is the best one to handle the top issues facing the nation

New tracker data from YouGov – published today – shows that the public continue to be most likely to describe the economy as a ‘top’ issue facing the country, at 51%. However, ‘health’ is now in touching distance, at 49%. Further behind, at 36%, ‘immigration and asylum’ rounds out the top three. Fourth- and fifth-placed 'housing' and 'the environment' come significantly further behind still, at 24% and 21% respectively.

With the election underway, the public’s perceptions of how the government is running the country are vital. Unfortunately for Rishi Sunak, the nation’s view of his performance across a range of areas is very negative – and on the issues that people see as most important, the public are even more critical.

On the economy, as many as three quarters (75%) of those who list it among their top issues facing the country say that the government are handling it badly. For those whose top concerns include health or immigration, these figures rise to 92% and 93%, respectively.

Across 12 issues we asked about, no fewer than 60% of those who considered a given issue to be a top issue say the government are handling it badly.

Of course, just because you think the Conservatives are doing badly managing the country doesn’t mean you think Labour would be doing any better. To test this, we can make another comparison: what party do the public think would be best at handling those issues that they themselves consider to be most important.

We can see that Labour is strongly preferred across many of the areas. Their lead is strongest on the topic of housing, with 49% of those who say housing is a top issue facing the country saying that Labour would be the best party to deal with it, compared to only 3% who say the Conservatives would be.

On the NHS – the second most common ‘top issue’ for Britons – 49% of those who see it as such say that Labour would be the best party to handle it, compared to just 7% who say the Conservatives.

When it comes to the economy, which is the most commonly cited ‘top issue’ facing the country, 34% of those who see the economy as a top issue also say that Labour is best placed to tackle the problem, compared to 19% for the Conservatives.

Labour are not ahead on every issue, however. Among those who say defence is a top issue facing the country, the Conservatives are the preferred party to handle the issue by 37% to Labour’s 12%.

Likewise, when it comes to immigration and asylum (the third most common top issue), 24% of people who see it as a top issue say the Conservatives are the best party for the job, compared to 11% for Labour. A further 20% answered ‘another party’, with many of these likely referring to Reform UK.

Many 2019 Conservative voters do not see the party as best placed to handle the issues they are most concerned about

With Labour currently holding the advantage in the election, the Conservatives need to try and hold on to as many of their 2019 voters in order to keep the keys to Downing Street – or more realistically to mitigate the size of their defeat.

Looking at those issues 2019 Tories consider most important, we again see their approval of the government’s record is negative – in some cases particularly so. Of those Tories who say that immigration is a top issue to them (this being the most common choice for those who backed the party in 2019), fully 92% say the government has handled it badly.

The government receives the same poor scores among those who say that crime (92%) and health (88%) are top issues.

Results are closest when it comes to the economy – of 2019 Tory voters who say the economy is a top issue for them, 50% say the government are handling it badly compared to 49% who think they are doing well.

Despite these poor performances, the government might still hope to see that the Conservatives are more trusted on these issues than their rivals. While this is typically the case (except for the NHS), the numbers are still far lower than Rishi Sunak would be comfortable with.

Only half of 2019 Tories who say the economy is the most important issue to them (51%) say that the Conservatives are the best party to deal with it. When it comes to immigration, that figure falls further to 35%, with 22% saying an ‘other’ party (likely Reform UK) would be better to do so.

If the Conservatives cannot convince the majority of their former voters that they are the best party to handle the issues they care about most, it is hard to see how they can avoid a rout akin to that being estimated by our MRP.

Photo: Getty

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